I’m convinced that safety professionals need to expand their view of safety from one focused predominantly on physical safety to one that includes a focus on how people are treated in the workplace. The physical manifestations of safety are in many ways the signs and symptoms of not only how people are being treated but how they feel in the work environment.
Often discussions about safety in the workplace focus on topics such as the available safety equipment and the viability of safety training. However, there tends to be little conversation about the emotional environment that workers. As a leading indicator of the safety management system and a lagging indicator of the leadership culture of an organization, the ways that people are communicated with, instructed and corrected have a tremendous effect on how workers perceive their work environment. Workers that are berated, yelled at and pummelled with insults are certainly not likely to do their best work, regardless of what their responsibility with the organization might be. Conversely, workers who are well treated, cared for and supported will generally perform better and bring greater value to the organizations itself. This is not a suggestion that the world of work is a utopia, however, it should also not be an apocalyptic hell where workers are in constant fear of either customers, supervisors, co-workers or subordinates.
An important characteristic that a safety professional should possess is the ability to be FOR safety and neutral on other topics. A safety professional cannot be so for the organization that they are willing to put employees at risk for the purpose of production. They should also not be so FOR the employee that they resist anything that will be disliked by employees even when it will clearly make the workplace safer. Safety professionals must guard against expression of strong feelings or opinions on every subject, all of the time, lest they create a perception that safety professionals
The office of a safety professional should be a place where people can go and report not only physical hazards but emotional ones as well. Worker should know that they can go to safety for any reason and know that while the issue will be addressed, their confidentiality protection and potential for action should increase. While the safety professional cannot and should not be viewed as a panacea, the way a safety professional carry themselves will certainly have an impact on how supported or not workers feel by the safety office.